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Classical Conversations Review by Nancy Casari Dayton

Classical Conversations

It is with distinct pleasure that I share my experience with Classical Conversations; however, to call it a curriculum would not capture the essence of what Classical Conversations (CC) is about. To use their own description, CC is a mission, a model, and a method. The mission is to know God and make Him known. As a model, CC combines classical education and a Christian worldview. As a method, CC creates communities that support parents in implementing curriculum in their own homes, i.e. parents supporting other parents. Therefore, the curriculum I discuss is intended to be used within a CC community in order to reap the benefits of the curriculum and the program to their fullest. CC has program and curriculum offerings for children aged pre-kindergarten to high school. Communities also work together to provide childcare for younger siblings.

CC acknowledges three stages of classical education. The Foundations and Essentials programs are targeted toward the grammar stage. The Essentials and Challenge A and B levels are for the dialectic stage. The Challenge Levels I, II, III, and IV are targeted for the rhetoric stage. Roughly, these programs are for the elementary, middle school, and high school years, respectively. Parents and Program Directors work together to find the right level for individual children.

Prior to enrolling in a CC program, parents are offered to opportunity to attend informational meetings hosted by the Director of the local community wherein the program is explained, and parents can visit classes to observe meetings in progress. In addition, CC strongly encourages families to attend a Parent Practicum. These are 1- or 3-day events for parents to learn about and practice specific subject-area curriculum under the facilitation of experienced CC staff. These practicums are offered free-of-charge but may involve some travel and/or hotel accommodations depending on the location. CC truly seeks to support families in making the most of the experience, both in terms of feeling confident with the curriculum and feeling supported within a community.

My children are in the fourth and third grades; they are participating in the Foundations program. Within that program, there are several levels (with approximate ages): Abecedarian (4-5), Apprentice (6-7), Journeyman (8-9), and Master (10-11). Among the levels, all the basic content of the grammar is the same, but the depth with which the children engage in it and the way information is presented vary.

CC offers a fabulous array of curriculum. Every detail has been scrutinized for quality and usefulness. I have not been disappointed with any product I have used. First it is helpful to know that CC has designed its program into a three-year cycle, and subject areas are somewhat coordinated around the timeline of history. This year we are studying Cycle 1 which includes world history, biology and earth science, English verbs and prepositions, Latin noun endings, art masters and drawing. Music includes music theory and composers for all Cycles. Math includes multiplications tables, conversions, geometric formulas, and algebraic laws for all Cycles. The CC website has very thorough explanations of all the programs and Cycles, as well as an online Bookstore through which all these items may be purchased. The items mentioned in this review are not the only ones available through CC. There are many suggestions for supplemental resources and reference materials. You can request a printed catalogue, and CC has recommendations for what resources should be considered priorities.

Here is a list of the curriculum I have been using this year with the prices, brief descriptions, and a little about how we use the resource in our home. The following curriculum was provided to me by CC:

  • Foundations Guide 4th Ed. ($60) - This manual provides the spine of the CC program for all three cycles. It shows the weekly grammar for all subject areas in an easy-to-read one-half page format. This is a very handy reference and the tool that we use most often. In addition, there are reference sections for Scripture, science, fine arts, history, and geography maps. If you want a big picture of CC's program in one place, this is it.
  • Classical Acts and Facts History Cards: all four sets: Ancient, Medieval, New World, Modern World ($22 per set) - These cards are gorgeous! There are 172 total cards. The plan is to focus on seven historical event cards each of 23 weeks. The remaining 11 cards list the U.S. presidents. The front of the card contains a beautiful picture of artwork or a photograph to help connect the event to be remembered with the image. Also on the front is the title of the card/event, a date reference, and one of seven symbols to represent an historical age. The back of the card contains the title and date again with some detailed information about the historical event. Children memorize all 161 events during every year's cycle. There are also a timeline running vertically up the left margin with an indication of where the card's event fits in history, a small world map, and a number in the upper right corner to help keep the cards in order. All the kids I have seen are delighted with these cards. I keep the seven cards we are studying each week out on a large presentation board. The others store nicely in a 5" by 8" plastic card file box.
  • Classical Acts and Facts Science Cards Biology/Geology ($18.99) - The science cards are as wonderful as are the history cards. There are four sets available: Biology/Geology, Ecology/ Astronomy/Physics, Anatomy/Chemistry/Origins, and Famous Scientists. We are using the Biology/Geology cards for Cycle 1. The front of the science cards contain the grammar content to be memorized and a memorable picture or photograph. The top, right corner of each card is color-coded for the year's topic and has a number for sorting. For example, card 2 is coded green and is entitled "The Classification of Living Things, The Linnaeus Model" and has a picture of a leopard on the front. The classifications kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species are listed with their Latin translations. The back of the card lists the question, "What are the classifications of living things?" with the answer "The classifications of living things are kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species." There are also three short paragraphs with more detailed information.
  • Cycle 1 Memory Master Flashcards 4th Ed. ($30) - This resource is handy during daily review time. This is a set of hole-punched laminated cards, the size of business cards. The cards contain the grammar memory work for history, geography, timeline, science, math Latin, English, and U.S. presidents. I add each week's cards to a large binder ring as we progress through the year.
  • Cycle 1 Audio CD's 4th Ed ($35) - This set of CD's is so much fun! Use it in the car on your way to lessons or to the grocery store. Let the kids listen while they are coloring, or doing chores, or before bed. It's a great passive reinforcement that my kids seem to absorb readily and enjoy. They love the history songs best but can imitate the narrators of the various tracks very well! The set includes content for math, science, English, Latin, history, timeline, U.S. presidents, plus books of the Bible, and tunes for the history timeline and Scripture memory. There is one CD with material presented in a weekly format, one CD with material organized by subject, and a third for the timeline tune as well as the content from the Classical Acts and Facts History Timeline cards.
  • Cycle 1 Memory Resource CD 4th Ed ($30) - This resource provides an alternative way to review the memory work. This CD contains the same material that is on the Audio CD, plus extra visual aids. Many of the slides contain some animation. The kids enjoy this resource, too. You can also print slides of the memory work for each subject area. This is very helpful. Many families create a weekly presentation board with each week's content displayed. These printed pages are perfect for that use. This resource is not MAC compatible; however, CC does have an iPad application available. More information is available on the CC website.
  • Trivium Tables: Geography Cycle 1 ($10) - This is a very sturdy laminated double-sided folder that has four 8" x 11 in. pages. It contains the cycle's geography terms, map keys, and maps. There are colored map keys and blank maps so that children can practice finding the various locations coloring themselves. Each week's content is listed in a table like a checklist. Cycle 1 focuses on geography of the world and of Africa.
  • Trivium Tables: Latin ($10) - The physical dimensions of the Latin table are the same as for the geography table I described above. At this stage, this resource is most valuable as a reference tool for me; although, I expect it will become more useful to my kids as their Latin studies progress. It contains charts for noun declensions, verb conjugations, and beginning vocabulary.

I would like to point out that our family focuses on memorizing the basic content of the Foundations program grammar. If our children express specific interest in a topic, they are encouraged to read the information on the back of the (history or science) card and/or use references sources we have available. We use separate history, science, Latin, English, and math curricula. With this approach, CC serves as an enriching complement to our studies at home; the CC curriculum does not replace anything we do at home. There are many other families who use the CC curriculum as a spine and simply pick and choose certain topics within the grammar to study more deeply. The curriculum is only part of what makes our experience with CC so worthwhile. Spending the better part of a day with other families who are also striving to provide a rigorous classical education within a Biblical worldview is an uplifting, edifying investment of our time.

A day in our Roseville, California community would look like this: Families arrive between 9:00 and 9:15 am, at which time our Director welcomes us and provides announcements. We also practice the Timeline as a community, and listen to a family presentation. This is a time for individual families to share a little about themselves with the whole community. Presentations are about five minutes and might include information about a recent trip or a favorite hobby. Then after a brief time for questions from the group, students and parents are dismissed to their respective classes with their Tutors. I will explain more about the Tutors below.

Class begins at 9:30. During the class session, the Tutor will present new memory work and review previous memory work in the core subject areas of history, geography, math, science, Latin, and English. The fine arts component is divided into six-week sessions on drawing, music theory, great artists, and orchestra. Science also is presented in six-week units alternating between hands-on projects and projects that use the scientific method. Also, students are encouraged to make an age-appropriate presentation each week. My children love the review games at the end of each session. Class ends at 12:15. Then we head to the lunch room to share lunch and chat with the other families. It is such a wonderful, positive, energetic, encouraging time of our week!

The role of the Tutors merits more explanation. The term Tutor is very specific. CC maintains that the parents are the primary teachers. Tutors support families by facilitating the class session, presenting new and reviewing previous curriculum, and modeling classical techniques. They also work very hard to create and maintain a respectful, productive, cooperative, and fun environment. It is important for me to convey here that parents do not abdicate their teaching or disciplinary responsibility to the Tutors. Parents are required to stay in the class and are expected to participate in the class session and support the Tutor by helping to maintain a positive learning environment as described above. Parents may also assist by organizing classroom supplies, chaperoning trips to the restroom, etc. Again, CC emphasizes the importance of community as well as the curriculum. The community is as wonderful as are the people in it.

In addition to the cost of the curriculum your family uses in your home, there is a cost to participate in the community. You should be prepared for registration fees, supply fees, nursery fees (if applicable), as well as tuition. The cost to our family for our two children in the Foundations program for the full 24-weeks of the 2012-2013 school year was $985.00. There is just a little variance among communities for the nursery and facility fees. CC sets standard fees for tuition, registration, and supplies. Participation in Classical Conversations requires a significant investment of both time and money. Most endeavors that are worthwhile do require significant investment. Also, when I consider that the cost for one child would be $505, and there are 72 hours of class time (24 weeks x 3 hours), that works out to $7.01 per hour, which I find to be very reasonable.

Our family has been blessed to be in Classical Conversations. We enjoy the academic rigor and high standards that CC sets. We feel supported and comfortable among a group of like-minded families. We love that everything we learn and our interactions with others are purposefully sifted through a Biblical perspective. For us the investment is worth it, because we feel it honors God and enriches our family

Product Review by Nancy Casari Dayton, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January, 2013